So here we are, at the other end of it all. Another year flown by, another New Year ushered in with all its tacit promise of better things to come and promises made to be better humans. I anticipate that many New Year’s resolutions have been made by compassionate people choosing veganism to improve this entity we are, Humankind, to be kind to our fellow beings and to treat our planet with more respect.
In terms of Christmas, things are a little different at our home compared to what they used to be, and that is because Jiffy and I opted out of Christmas years ago. I had been disenchanted with Christmas for a long time, and he began to feel a similar discomfort. There are a number of reasons for my disillusionment; some, but not all based in veganism, and here’s a rundown:
My Dad was a no-nonsense atheist. Mum – you know, I’m still not entirely sure how she feels about God in any sense of the concept. She was raised a Lutheran. While Dad made his opinion clear, they left me to seek my own way and for a while I too was a confirmed atheist. Then as I became a bit disillusioned with science and its dislike of anything it can’t measure, I diluted my stance to agnosticism. I guess I am still an agnostic because I am both disconcerted by some of the evil acts that are perpetrated in the name of religion, yet ready to acknowledge that the concept of religion, in terms of giving people meaning in their life and a set of guidelines to help them aspire to be better human beings is wonderful, assuming it is not abused. Ultimately I believe there is something going on in the universe that’s a truckload bigger and more important than me (ok, probably a couple of things), so as long as I acknowledge that and continue through life without hurting anything then that’s okay. Right? Without hurting even the people who hurt others. Especially that last one. I’m not too good at that yet, but I’m working on it. That, and forgiveness. I can hang onto a grudge with all 20 digits for millennia. As I said, I’m working on it.
Golly, I’m the first to acknowledge I don’t have the answers! But at any rate, I felt that I was not in a place to celebrate the birth of Christ the way that Christians do. With all due respect, and acknowledging my belief that Christ existed, the fact is that I also believe that there are many avatars whose births aren’t celebrated in the all-encompassing fashion that his is (at least where I live), and who are as deserving as he. Buddha, for one.
To put it simply – isn’t Jesus Christ’s birth what Christmas is about? How’d all that other stuff get in there?
Ugly, ugly, ugly. Were any of you brave enough prior to Christmas to watch a movie or, perish the thought, the tenth rerun of a Big Bang Theory episode on a commercial channel? Were you suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to go out and buy stuff, especially stuff that was going to exponentially improve the quality of your life, like, say, a remote control helicopter? Did you want to go to Harvey Norman and buy something, anything, because, omg – they were giving you a-lot-of-months interest free? Did you realise that you forgot to buy something for your boss’s wife’s next door neighbour’s second cousin, and hallelujah you were saved because there were last minute Christmas gifts available JUST FOR YOU TO BUY?? Or perhaps, like me, you discovered the merits of the mute button on the universal remote (said remote, incidentally, being something that has improved Jiff’s life exponentially…..).
And those commercials were gentle compared to the ones for the Boxing Day sales that appeared one nanosecond after Christmas was done. Shops in the eastern states opened at 5:00am – to the queued up hordes – ? Really?
I remember being a kid in delicious agony having to wait for Father Christmas to deliver my prezzies. It was all about the prezzies-for-me. This was before I was old enough to feel obliged to return the favour, so I must have been pretty young. How did I become this Mini-Me who salivated at the exciting promise of new things and goodies? Sindy doll. The fancy Chrissy doll, whose hair could be short, medium or long, thanks to a roller in her head and a crank on her back. Barbie doll. Gee, lots of dolls. Toys, toys, toys. Some dumb people gave me food. Everyone knew food wasn’t presents! Worse, some idiots gave me clothes! Ya what?? Hasn’t anybody yet written the definitive guide entitled What to Give a Kid for Christmas so They Don’t Hate You?
Obviously the bar has been raised, because Sindy and Chrissy have been replaced by Xbox Kinect or sundry i-Gadgets. Or was that so five minutes ago? Gadgets! I first became aware of other (especially young) people and their gadgets – and the way said gadgets are changing our way of interacting with the world – during the three years I studied art in Perth 2008-2010. This involved two hours on buses and trains every day, a three-hour round-trip door-to-door, don’t get me started. But it offered me an opportunity to people-watch and it was usually me who was doing the watching. Apart from those thrillseekers who actually communicated directly with each other on public transport, most commuters were engaged in other activities. Many folk were reading books or the daily paper. Some stared into oblivion, trying to avoid gazing straight into the crotches of those who were standing. A few spoke on their mobile phones (and I am convinced that some of them were not having conversations with real people – they were just shouting controversial things into their phones to make it look like they were important. Or maybe had friends). Some txtd with great concentration. There were those with their ear buds in, listening to their music so loud that I could have sung along with it, even from the other end of the bus…that is, if I knew the words.
By far the most sobering were the people who sat in their seats and listened to music while txting, constantly, for the entire journey, without looking up occasionally to perhaps take in the view or reconnect with where they were at present. So lost in their own worlds, apparently oblivious to all around them – like the overtly funny but somewhat chilling scenes in Wall-E, where obese people sat in little pods with a computer screen in front of them, engaging friends via the computer, but not interacting with other real, live people directly next to them. And they’d lost the ability to walk. Silly cartoon, right? The txting earbud people I saw in buses and trains were so used to the constant soundtrack in their head that they didn’t physically respond to music. When a favourite song comes on I think it’s so gorgeous to be able to let go and tap hands and feet, move body, mildly headbang. Dance like nobody is watching. Sing like nobody is listening. Surely that’s not just me?
At a time when our consciousness is supposedly expanding, these must-have cool gadgets are informing us more about the rest of the world at the expense of relating to what is immediately around us.
But I digress.
The point is, one of the greatest inspirations for me to opt out of Christmas was how commercial and profit-driven it is these days. Maybe I am mistaken about the significance of Christ’s birth. Maybe in our world Christmas is about buying stuff. If so, a name change is in order – “Buy-mass”, anyone? Ok, that’s a bit lame. But you see where I’m at.
There is a pig slaughterhouse about twenty minutes past our local town. Our town is on the highway and the pig trucks come through our town en route to that vile place, with their “cargo” of doomed beings. It is a sad and demoralising sight. Some of their squeals are bone chilling. If I am close enough to that truck, those little guys look me right in the eye and all I can do right then is apologise for my own species and ponder how anyone can believe it is okay to turn these living, breathing, feeling beings into a food that we don’t even need, that we eat just because we like the taste.
In about October each year the truck carries more pigs per load than the rest of the year. I don’t know for sure why, but my guess is that it has something to do with Christmas hams. From an ancient way of preserving meat when there was no refrigeration, to a mainstay in the sad Western diet; those unfortunate beings are killed and dismembered to be ingested by humans as part of the traditional Christmas dinner.
Joy to the world.
For any person with a modicum of awareness who has witnessed a piglet zooming gleefully around an open field, or exploring, playing, being loved or getting belly rubs, there is little to separate the piglet’s obvious joy from that of a dog’s in a similar situation. Sadly, most pigs are raised in factory farms, in overcrowded pens on concrete floors, no straw to bed down, in their own muck, for six short months until it’s their turn on the truck. And then, if it is a clear day, the ones on the outer edges of their level on the truck get to see sunshine for what may be the first and only time in their miserable lives. According to www.pork4kids.com/askafarmer.aspx there are approximately 850 million pigs in the world at any time. That’s a lot of misery, and that is only one of the intelligent species that we exploit.
Turkeys are also unfortunate enough to be part of our Christmas dinner picture, even with its decidedly American roots. Turkey marketing peaks in Australia around Christmas time. Just like chickens, turkeys have been bred to gain weight as fast as possible. A turkey’s lifespan could be as much as ten years, but here they are slaughtered at just 12 weeks old, and suffer diseases and crippling as a result of their rapid growth, not to mention cruel practices like debeaking. I just read a report that cites if a 3kg human baby grew at that rate, at just 18 weeks of age, that baby would weigh 227kg.
We are Frankenstein. But then, Frankenstein did not eat his creation.
I have seen a pair of rescued broiler chickens (those raised for meat alone). Having been allowed to live beyond the six weeks of age when chickens are usually slaughtered, these two young chickens, a male and a female, grew into something surreal. When I described them to a friend, I used the word “abominations”. They were so massive, they could barely walk on their crazily splayed legs. Encountering them filled me with revulsion and pity. They both died shortly afterwards; she first and then he, his end possibly quickened by grief. He’d lost his mate.
Well, enough of that. You get the picture. Another reason I opted out of Christmas was my inability to be gracious about nice, and even deeply religious and kind, people being good and pious at Christmastime, yet not giving a second thought to the creatures whose lives were taken for Christmas dinner. Or maybe giving a second thought and eating them anyway. A fleshfest at a time when leaders ask us to think of our “fellow man” and peace on earth seemed so hypocritical to me. How can there be true peace on earth when there is so much cruelty and hypocrisy? Getting back to science, that negative energy has to go somewhere…
Was anyone else ready to throw spitballs at Curtis Stone’s smiling face on the telly as he spruiked Christmas fare that is disproportionately meat-heavy? Turkey, ham, prawns, anything that moves. And along with the annual flood of Christmas recipes come the concurrent articles about how to lose the weight you put on over the festive season. That, right there, says so much about a troubling, wasteful side of us – that so many of us overindulge that there is impetus enough for the media to offer us articles on how to fix the unhealthy mess we made of ourselves in a very short period of time. In amongst that are your concerned government’s reminders to eat 2 fruit & 5 veg every day. Trust me, folks – they do that because they care for you. My Cynical Side is popping up and insisting I tell you that it’s actually because they anticipate the rapidly approaching and monstrously vast health crisis caused by our meat-centric, dairy-heavy sugar-laden, junk-food infused, vegetable-starved, fibre-free western diet. Oh Cynical Side, you little rapscallion, you mischievous imp – I forgive you.
See, I’m getting better at forgiving already. I thought this was gonna be hard!
So, without engaging in a regular Christmas, how did we spend the past couple of weeks? Jiff and I shared some special time with loved people and our critters. We ate wonderful vegan food and, in fact, Jiff used the opportunity very well indeed. He happily cooks up a storm in the kitchen at any time, but he has just discovered the best dhal recipe in the universe (thank you, IsaChandra – you legend!), not to mention the equivalent level of creamy tofu chocolate mousse (from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau).
You need a protein injection, you protein-deficient, sickly-looking vegan-type? Cop one in the mousse!
In between discovering them, he whipped up a few more awesome Indian dishes courtesy of Manjula (we love Manjula). We shared a few drinkipoos and a lot of laughs, and we acknowledged our fellow creatures with love.
We didn’t kill anybody.
And we toasted how great it is to be vegan. Happy New Year!
For the critters…